Derk Schulze, 46, a pastor of a local church, has been a volunteer at Arcata Endeavor for two years. He has observed that the homeless often don’t understand the importance of time. "Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a blank slate and helping them develop a new world view," he says. "They’re coming out of one culture where the mind-set may be entitlement or [an attitude of] ‘I don’t have to do much to get what I need.’ In the past, their idea of work might have been to fill out forms and pick up a check. Here, they learn that they’re given a paycheck for what they earn."
Schulze finds tremendous gratification in his volunteer job. "You’re taking people who are disenfranchised from society and helping them to become contributing, connected individuals in the community. I see a life change in them, and it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. In Arcata, there is a high level of poverty and homelessness that is basically going unnoticed. I’m making a difference."
Shelter has clearly made a difference, too, not only for himself and his children, but for the hundreds of homeless who have come through Arcata Endeavor’s doors since he took the helm five years ago. In 1991, he lost his home after becoming disabled by a work accident at a restaurant. His big break came when he turned to an emergency shelter and eventually started volunteering. Six months later, a paid position at the shelter opened up, and he was on his way to a career. He enrolled in school part-time to become a substance-abuse counselor, ran a winter shelter and sober houses, and, before joining Arcata Endeavor, worked in a residential substance-abuse program. "It’s taken me 17 years to get from homeless to here," Shelter declares. A man on the move, he now helps others to get a leg up in the world and navigate toward a safer haven.
Most cities have nonprofit organizations that work with the homeless. Call your town or city hall to find out what’s available in your area, check with a family resource center, or Google "homeless employment programs + your city."